Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
France, Paris, 1240s
Scholars believe that the Picture Bible was commissioned by Louis IX of France, the Capetian monarch who built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns before leaving for the first of his two crusades in 1248. The Bible later passed to the cardinal of Cracow, who then offered it as a diplomatic gift to the great Persian Muslim shah 'Abbas in the early seventeenth century. The manuscript eventually fell into the hands of Jewish owners, probably during the eighteenth century. These various owners left Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions around the images. With these inscriptions, the keepers of the manuscript used their languages to assert their ownership of the book, appropriating its narrative contents and assimilating it into their own cultures.
The Latin captions are the earliest. They can be labeled as "early fourteenth-century," and were possibly made by a scribe trained in Bologna.
The Persian captions come next. They were added in 1608 or shortly after, when the manuscript was presented to Shah Abbas in Isfahan.
The Judeo-Persians are last, and according to the translator, they were probably made in 1722 or shortly after, as that year Isfahan was sacked by the Afghans. She supposes that at that time the book was looted by an Afghan soldier and was possibly exchanged with an Iranian Jew.
The Picture Bible is illustrated with saturated colors and exquisite detail. In order to make its lessons relevant to readers, the creators of this Bible set Old Testament stories in contemporaneous environments. For example, depictions of architecture evoke the castles and houses of thirteenth-century French towns and battle scenes are illustrated with thirteenth-century armor, weapons, and battle insignia.
MS M.638 (fol. 32r)
A Tearful Farewell
Accompanied by a page, Jonathan returns to the field where David lies hidden. He shoots three arrows as a signal to his friend and orders the page to retrieve them. After the boy is dismissed, David emerges from his rocky hiding place and embraces Jonathan. After swearing allegiance to Jonathan and his house, David takes his leave. (1 Kings 20: 35–43)
Ahimelech Provisions David
David makes his way to Nob and to the place of the priest Ahimelech. The priest is uneasy, observing that David travels alone and unarmed. David explains that he is on a secret mission for the king. Satisfied, the priest provisions David with the only food on hand—circular loaves of hallowed bread—and arms him with a familiar weapon, the mighty sword of Goliath. Doeg, Saul's chief herdsman, is witness to the event and will inform the king. (1 Kings 21:6–9)
David Feigns Madness
Seeking refuge, David travels to the court of Achish, king of Gath. Soon, the famous warrior is recognized by the servants of Achish and brought before the king. Fearing the consequences of discovery, David pretends madness. He deliberately stumbles about, swinging an enormous club. The annoyed king turns to his advisors and demands that the lunatic be dismissed. (1 Kings 21:10–14)
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern, www.faksimile.ch.
Content consultant: Richard Leson
Upper half: How, Jonathan, aware of his father’s savage and implacable disposition toward David, was angered and arose from the table without eating. Thereupon, having gone with one little boy to the field where David was hiding, he shot three arrows, as he had said, crying, "There is the arrow further behind you," and again: "Make haste quickly, stand not!". This done, he dismissed the boy, unaware of all that had happened. When that one had departed, David arose and went there, and the two conversed, kissing each other with many a tear. (I Samuel 20: 34–42)
Lower left: How, fleeing, David came to Ahimelech, the priest, who wondered why he was coming alone. David told him that the king had sent him on a secret mission to find his servants in certain places. Then he asked bread from the priest, but he offered him holy bread, as he did not have any other. Then he asked him again for a spear or a sword, saying that he had left his arms at home since he was hurrying away. The priest, having no other, gave him the sword of Goliath, whom he himself had killed, which was concealed in a sacred place wrapped up in a mantle. Now, one of the king’s shepherds happened to be there, as these things were happening. (I Samuel 21: 1–9)
Lower right: How Saul was angry with his son and with all of his men who seemed to be against him and to support David, and, when he complained loudly that he did not know where he was, that shepherd told the king where he had seen David and what had happened there. (I Samuel 22: 6–10)
Translation by Eran Lupu
After the commentary volume accompanying the Fine Art Facsimile edition
by Faksimile Verlag Luzern / www.faksimile.ch